In August of 2016, I took my first trip to Kenya. I met some fantastic people including a dear friend named Barnabas. Over the next couple of trips, I have been able to get to know him even more, and at the end of the trip, he is one of the primary reasons why it is difficult to leave. I honestly don’t remember the words we said to each other at the conclusion of my first trip, but I can’t imagine his words toward me then were any different than what they were in the subsequent trips.
See, Barnabas does not believe in goodbyes. He will not say goodbye. He says something like, “Until we see each other again” or “See you later.” It reminds me of the saying that many people say to a child, “See you later alligator.” And the response, “After while, crocodile.”
Well, in thinking about today, and this message, I do not plan to say goodbye. Susan and I are leaving, but after considering the idea for the last couple of months, I realized that the Bible does not have much in the way of goodbyes. Certainly, people departed from one place and went to another. Others died and left friends and family behind. But as far as verses that contain words such as people actually saying some form of goodbye, they are rare.
Likely, the passage that is best known for a goodbye would be the words of Jesus in the Great Commission. The version from Matthew is quite common, but notice that Jesus does not say goodbye in any way. Instead, He commissions them with the task of making disciples, and then, states the opposite of a goodbye when He said, “I will be with you always.”
Other prominent individuals in the Bible do not say goodbye, in part because they are already separated in some way. For instance, think of Paul’s letters or Peter’s letters. They are writing a letter because they are not there with the people who will receive the letter. Thus, they send greetings. Of course, it is very likely that goodbyes were said when someone like Paul (and any companions) left the city or region in the past, but again, such an occasion is rare for anyone in Scripture.
One such occasion takes place in Acts 20. I preached on the concept of elders from this chapter in December 2020, but today I want to focus on Paul’s leaving. In this chapter, Paul is in Ephesus and does a brief recount of his time there and then shares a warning of what he expected would happen to the church there in the future. (It is important to know that he tried to mitigate that concern by sending Timothy to serve as pastor at Ephesus after a time.)
Before we look at Paul’s words, let me briefly review the covenant that we – the Fairfax Baptist Church and me – agreed to on the day I was installed as pastor of this church.
I hope I lived up to my part of the covenant with God, and for you. And I hope the same can be said for you towards God and me. Of course, both sides (the church and me) did well in some things and could have improved in others, but that will always be true because we are humans. However, I do believe that God brought the Braams and Fairfax Baptist Church together for this season and I am thankful for these 11 years together.
To understand Paul’s exit at Ephesus, read Acts 20.17-35.
Paul knew it was time for him to leave. We know our time in Fairfax has passed as well. However, unlike Paul, I cannot say that this is the last time you will see my face. Paul knew, to some extent, what awaited him (imprisonment and afflictions, v. 23). Therefore, he said that they would not see his face again (v. 25). Again, I cannot say that with any certainty. It may be true, but it very well might not.
But then Paul continued by warning the people that “fierce wolves” would try to take advantage of Paul’s departure to draw people away from Christ (vv. 28-29). Paul’s situation was far different because he started the church in Ephesus. As for me, Fairfax Baptist Church was nearly 127 years old when we arrived. In other words, this church has had many pastors prior to me, and Lord willing, will continue well into the future which means more pastors will follow.
But, let me say that, as a pastor, you do take ownership of the people. I don’t use the word ownership lightly, but I also want to make sure you realize what I mean. Ultimately, I mean taking responsibility.
I realize that Jesus is the true Shepherd, but He appointed me as the undershepherd for this church for these last eleven years. And while I could have done better in some areas, I have sought to faithfully proclaim the Word of God so you would be equipped to live a life of faith as we were together and now into the future.
Returning to the text, after Paul had reminded them of his ministry and given a warning, he prayed with them and then prepared to depart. Before I pray one last time with you, I want to leave you with some closing thoughts reminding you that God still has work for us to do (similar to what Jesus did for His disciples before He departed).
The Braams may be leaving Fairfax, but we are still teammates for God. We will now take a different path, but each person is still accountable to Jesus to do something. You have likely heard that TEAM means Together Everyone Achieves More. Well, that is true, but for Jesus followers, working together as a TEAM means Together Everyone Advances the Mission.
I am glad to have been a part of the team at Fairfax Baptist Church for over a decade. This church has long had an impact in this town and this county. By the grace of God, over the past several years, we have extended our reach throughout the world. As a team, we have started other churches, trained other leaders, etc. But we cannot rest on what has been done because we all have more to do.
A question that any church can always ask is: If Fairfax Baptist did not exist anymore, would anyone notice? Would anyone care?
The best way to make them notice is to show them you care!
One way to make them care is by showing your faith is real. Please remember, faith does not mean being risky, it means being obedient. You might remember last week when I shared an acrostic I developed for faith. The acrostic is as follows:
- Faith Requires Action (Obedience)
- Action Requires Intentionality (Not Just Good Intentions)
- Intentionality Includes Teaching (Great Commission)
- Teaching Brings Hope (through the Gospel)
- Hope Increases Faith (Making more disciples leading others to begin this faith cycle)
Everyone is to exercise their faith, but it will be expressed slightly (or maybe a lot) different for everyone. The question many ask is What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)? But the better question is, WWJHMD (What Would Jesus Have Me Do?). But knowing His will is one things; the key for us is to do it. Like James wrote, we deceive ourselves when we become people who hear God’s message and do not act on it.
So, have faith. Grow in your faith. Act on your faith. And know that to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12.48).
Fairfax Baptist Church, we have been given much. If you have nothing else, you have the truth that Jesus sacrificed Himself for you. Therefore, we are to love. We are to serve. And we are to share the message of Jesus with a lost and dying world. If we do these things, we will one day hear “Well done good and faithful servant.” But those words will be followed by, “Enter into the joy of your master.”
So, if we don’t see each other again on earth, we will have the opportunity to see each other while singing praises to Jesus. I am sure it doesn’t work this way, but I told Ken Lucas that I will be in the baritone section. Susan will be in the soprano section.
Now, read the closing verses of Acts 20 (vv. 36-38).
The love Paul had for those people and the love they had for him was real. His departure was one that caused deep emotion. As many of you have heard me say over the past two months, “If it doesn’t hurt, it wasn’t real.”
But remember, it is not goodbye. Like my friend Barnabas in Kenya said to me in the past, and I am sure will say again this July, our leaving is not a permanent situation.
If we are in Christ we will be together again – maybe not in the same way, but together in a more intimate way than even the closest of friends or spouses experience on this earth.
So, I close with a simple statement which I hope invokes a response from you.
Andy: “See you later, alligator.”
Response: “After while, crocodile.”